Handelsblatt Global Edition Magazine - - Front Page - BY SVEN AF­HÜP­PE AND MA­THI­AS BRÜGGMANN

Rus­sia’s Dmit­ry Med­ve­dev talks about war

In an ex­clu­si­ve in­ter­view with Han­dels­blatt, the Rus­si­an pri­me mi­nis­ter talks about why the West is wrong on Sy­ria and the re­fu­gees, why his coun­try is right, and how to avo­id World War III.

At his of­fice in the Krem­lin, Rus­si­an Pri­me Mi­nis­ter Dmit­ry Med­ve­dev ex­plains what Rus­sia is do­ing to over­co­me its eco­no­mic cri­sis, why the coun­try is in­ter­ve­ning in the Sy­rian ci­vil war, and why he thinks it’s up to the West to res­to­re re­la­ti­ons with his coun­try. He al­so rai­ses the spec­ter of a new world war erup­t­ing over the Midd­le East. The fol­lo­wing are ex­cer­pts from a one-hour in­ter­view. The full tran­script is avail­able on the Han­dels­blatt Glo­bal Edi­ti­on web­site.

An­ge­la Mer­kel is the one wes­tern lea­der still tal­king re­gu­lar­ly to Vla­di­mir Pu­tin. Yes, the Rus­si­an Pre­si­dent re­gu­lar­ly holds talks with the Chan­cel­lor. They on­ly dis­cuss the si­tua­ti­on in Ukrai­ne. We no lon­ger con­duct the com­pre­hen­si­ve dia­lo­gue we used to.

Per­haps Eu­ro­pe no lon­ger trusts Rus­sia af­ter the an­nexa­ti­on of Cri­mea. The­re’s not­hing left of this trust now. Of cour­se, opi­ni­ons may dif­fer, in­clu­ding on the de­ve­lop­ments in Ukrai­ne. But why de­rail ab­so­lu­te­ly all con­tacts, from po­li­ti­cal to eco­no­mic ones? Look, the So­viet Uni­on was not the ea­siest part­ner and not the fri­end­liest coun­try for Eu­ro­pe and for ot­her coun­tries, yet par­li­a­men­ta­ry spea­kers we­re ne­ver de­cla­red per­so­na non gra­ta be­fo­re, not even du­ring the most dif­fi­cult con­flicts, li­ke du­ring the Cu­ban mis­si­le cri­sis or the Af­ghan war.

How can we over­co­me the cri­sis in re­la­ti­ons bet­ween Rus­sia and the West? It’s not Rus­sia who must walk the grea­ter part of this path, be­cau­se it was you who told us that we are bad; that our de­ci­si­ons con­tra­dict in­ter­na­tio­nal law; that you won’t in­vi­te us anyw­he­re; that you wouldn’t tra­de with us; and that you would in­tro­du­ce sanc­tions against us. Now that I’ve said all of this, tell me, has this chan­ged Rus­sia’s stan­ce at least one ti­ny bit? Re­g­rett­a­b­ly, we are on the wrong path. But it is our Eu­ro­pean part­ners, and first of all the le­a­ders of the EU coun­tries who must walk the grea­ter part of this path. I say this open­ly so as to avo­id any mi­sun­der­stan­dings.

What is Rus­sia do­ing to help stop the ci­vil war in Sy­ria? Rus­sia be­ca­me in­vol­ved in the Sy­rian con­flict in or­der to se­cu­re its own na­tio­nal in­te­rests. Ob­vious­ly, we would not be do­ing it had the Sy­rian le­a­dership not re­quested our help and mi­li­ta­ry sup­port. It is not an un­li­mi­ted but a tem­pora­ry ope­ra­ti­on. And it is a lo­cal ope­ra­ti­on in­vol­ving the use of air­craft and, in so­me ca­ses, mis­si­les. That is, we don’t want to ta­ke part in the land ope­ra­ti­on; we’ve on­ly sent our ad­vi­sers the­re. In ot­her words, we con­sider this to be a lo­ca­li­zed, though ve­ry im­portant mis­si­on.

What would a com­mon so­lu­ti­on to the Sy­rian cri­sis look li­ke? We can­not agree on Ukrai­ne and on so­me ot­her is­su­es, for ex­amp­le bal­lis­tic mis­si­le de­fen­se. And the­re are ot­her pro­blems in our re­la­ti­ons. But why can’t we agree on Sy­ria? Tho­se [ter­ro­rist] bas­tards are do­ing their vi­le de­eds ever­yw­he­re now, in­clu­ding in Rus­sia and in Eu­ro­pe. But our Wes­tern part­ners re­fu­se to main­tain con­tacts with us, cur­tailing them whe­ne­ver they can. Ties at the le­vel of de­fen­se de­part­ments are on­ly spo­ra­dic, and they don’t want to crea­te a co­ali­ti­on, clai­ming that we are fight­ing the wrong forces.

But not all tho­se who op­po­se the Sy­rian go­vern­ment are ter­ro­rists. Show us the maps, show us whe­re the so-cal­led mo­de­ra­te op­po­si­ti­on is lo­ca­ted. We re­mem­ber how it was in Af­gha­nis­tan, when we we­re told that the­re are good and bad Ta­li­ban groups, and that we should be­fri­end the good Ta­li­ban and the bad ones should be

Wes­tern le­a­ders on­ce thought Med­ve­dev might push re­forms. Ins­tead Rus­sia has cra­cked down on op­po­si­ti­on and dis­sent.

de­s­troy­ed. And then the­re was 9/11 and ot­her tra­gic events. It’s all ve­ry com­pli­ca­ted. And it’s not a fact that tho­se who de­scri­be them­sel­ves as mo­de­ra­te are ac­tual­ly so. But we are wil­ling to dis­cuss all of this. Pre­si­dent Pu­tin has told this to his part­ners again and again. This me­ans we must sit down at the sa­me ta­ble, but our part­ners avo­id this. Me­anw­hi­le, the pro­blem has de­ve­l­o­ped in­to a mi­gra­ti­on cri­sis.

The re­fu­gee cri­sis is pro­bab­ly the big­gest chal­len­ge Eu­ro­pe has faced sin­ce the end of the Cold War.

I must say what I think on this is­sue. My Eu­ro­pean col­le­agues may not li­ke this, but I be­lie­ve that this is an all-out and to­tal failu­re, an all-round fias­co of the Eu­ro­pean im­mi­gra­ti­on po­li­cy. Com­ple­te wa­s­hout. Couldn’t they ha­ve fo­re­se­en this se­veral ye­ars ago? Are their ana­lysts this bad?

What do­y­ou me­an?

I’m sor­ry, but flin­ging doors open, as they did in Eu­ro­pe, and in­vit­ing ever­yo­ne who wants to co­me in is stu­pid, if not worse. And what now? A hu­ge num­ber of people from Sy­ria and neigh­bo­ring coun­tries are en­te­ring Eu­ro­pe. Who are the­se people? So­me are fle­eing the war, and the­re are ma­ny of them. They want to sur­vi­ve and, fran­k­ly, to re­cei­ve the pro­mi­sed EU fi­nan­ci­al as­sis­tan­ce. I think the­se al­lo­wan­ces are ap­pro­xi­mate­ly ten ti­mes lar­ger than what the­se people ear­ned in Sy­ria. We are sor­ry for the­se people, but this is the EU’s de­ci­si­on. Ho­we­ver, so­me of the­se people – and it’s not just a few stran­ge in­di­vi­du­als or utter scound­rels, but hund­reds and pos­si­bly thousands – are en­te­ring Eu­ro­pe as po­ten­ti­al ti­me bombs, and they will ful­fill their mis­si­ons as ro­bots when they are told to. It’s al­most im­pos­si­ble to find them, for they all are peace­ful ci­vi­li­ans who are fle­eing the war.

So­me Ar­ab coun­tries are cal­ling for ground ope­ra­ti­ons against the Is­la­mic Sta­te and for the Uni­ted Sta­tes to as­su­me le­a­dership.

Our esti­ma­te is ne­ga­ti­ve be­cau­se all ground ope­ra­ti­ons, as a ru­le, le­ad to per­ma­nent wars. Look at what is go­ing on in Af­gha­nis­tan and a num­ber of ot­her coun­tries. I don’t even men­ti­on the ill-fa­ted Li­bya. A ground oper-

ati­on draws ever­yo­ne ta­king part in it in­to a war. The Ame­ri­cans must con­sider whe­ther or not they want a per­ma­nent war. Are they ho­ping for a quick vic­to­ry? This doe­sn’t hap­pen in reality, par­ti­cu­lar­ly in the Ar­ab world. They ha­ve ever­yo­ne fight­ing ever­yo­ne. They don’t ha­ve a si­tua­ti­on whe­re the­re is al-As­sad and his loy­al forces and so­me an­ti­go­vern­ment op­po­si­ti­on. The reality is much mo­re com­plex. This me­ans that a war will last for ye­ars, if not de­ca­des. Why would an­yo­ne want that? We must ma­ke ever­yo­ne sit down to the ne­go­tia­ting ta­ble, ra­ther than start a new world war.

Rus­sia al­so has pro­blems at ho­me with an eco­no­my hit by Wes­tern sanc­tions and the fall in oil and gas pri­ces. How will Rus­sia get out of this cri­sis?

The go­vern­ment bud­get is suf­fe­ring of cour­se but ever­y­thing is re­la­ti­ve. When I star­ted wor­king in Moscow, 70 to 75 per­cent of our bud­get ca­me from oil and gas. Now it is 45 per­cent. So hy­dro­c­ar­bons are less im­portant than they we­re.

Still, a co­re pro­blem of the Rus­si­an eco­no­my is its de­pen­dence on oil.

I am of­ten as­ked why, if Vla­di­mir Pu­tin and I ha­ve be­en in po­wer for so long, ha­ve we not chan­ged the eco­no­mic struc­tu­re of the coun­try. That can­not be do­ne over 15 ye­ars. It was a struc­tu­re crea­ted over 50 or 60 ye­ars and we are in a pe­ri­od of two cri­ses.

What is Rus­sia do­ing to sti­mu­la­te and di­ver­si­fy the eco­no­my?

In a si­tua­ti­on whe­re our eco­no­my is fai­ling and for­eign ca­pi­tal mar­kets are clo­sed to us, we ha­ve to use dif­fe­rent tools. We ha­ve to sub­si­di­ze cre­dit be­cau­se na­tu­ral­ly in­te­rest ra­tes are high. We need to help people ob­tain lo­ans so on­go­ing pro­jects are not stop­ped, and people do not end up on the street. We did this du­ring the cri­ses of 2008, 2009 and 2010. Now we are mo­re ex­pe­ri­en­ced in hand­ling it.

Will you re­qui­re IMF aid again?

I be­lie­ve the chan­ces of our ap­pea­ling to the IMF again are mi­nis­cu­le at best. We would li­ke so­me­thing dif­fe­rent. Ma­ny of our pro­blems are ar­ti­fi­ci­al­ly crea­ted. It would be ea­sier to ad­dress ma­ny of them if Eu­ro­pean ca­pi­tal mar­kets we­re open to us.

Is Rus­sia’s stra­te­gy to re­ori­ent its eco­no­my from Eu­ro­pe to Asia?

The Eu­ro­pean Uni­on re­mains our prin­ci­pal tra­de part­ner. Yet the la­test de­ve­lop­ments and the dy­na­mism of the Asia-Pa­ci­fic mar­ket prompt us to de­ve­lop clo­ser con­tacts. Chi­na is our stra­te­gic part­ner, and al­so all the Asia-Pa­ci­fic coun­tries. To be in con­tact with both Eu­ro­pe and Asia si­mul­ta­neous­ly is not a po­li­ti­cal de­ci­si­on but ra­ther a prag­ma­tic ne­ces­si­ty. If our Eu­ro­pean col­le­agues de­ter­mi­ne to re­su­me a nor­mal part­nership with us, we will gl­ad­ly re­turn to our one-ti­me clo­se co­ope­ra­ti­on in ma­ny are­as.

We must ma­ke ever­yo­ne sit down to the ne­go­tia­ting ta­ble, ra­ther than start a new world war.

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